Greg Miller's Big Year Tour Series

TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

Green Jay


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2020 :: April 19 - April 25
2021 :: April 18 - April 24



From: $1,850 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from McAllen, Texas (MFE)


3 - 7 Participants



2021: 7 spaces available


This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

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Highlights of TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

  • Premier Birding Destination
  • Spring migrants and vagrants
  • Tropical Parula, Green Jay and Aplomado Falcon
  • One hotel for the whole tour

Description of TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

A trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley is magical at any time of year. Spring features a wonderful array of migrating passerines, raptors, and shorebirds, in addition to resident specialties.

Deep south Texas hosts an incredible diversity of avifauna; more than 500 species of birds have been documented in the 4-county region, including tropical specialties that can be found nowhere else in the USA. Some of the goodies include Altamira Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Least Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, White-tipped Dove, Olive Sparrow, and Aplomado Falcon. And that doesn’t even cover the host of exciting vagrants from Mexico that have visited the Lower Rio Grande Valley!

We’ll explore wetlands, woodlands, and palm-fringed resacas, visiting such legendary hotspots as Estero Llano Grande State Park, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana NWR, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and Falcon Dam. It will be an exciting week!

Looking for a longer Texas birding adventure? Combine this tour with our SHORT TRIP: TEXAS GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER tour! This short tour specifically targets the rare Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, but also ties in some stellar central Texas birding and a huge bat roost!

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Length of Tour


Brief Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX. (MFE)

Day 2 – Salineño; Chapeño; Falcon State Park; Starr County Park; Hidalgo Co. roads

Day 3 – Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park; Anzalduas Park; Santa Ana NWR; Quinta Mazatlan

Day 4 – Estero Llano Grande; Resaca de la Palma; Sabal Palm Sanctuary

Day 5 – Old Port Isabel Rd; Laguna Atascosa NWR; Willacy Co roads

Day 6 – Cameron Co roads; South Padre Island Convention Center; Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp; Harlingen Convention Center

Day 7 – Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)Orientation at dinner. If all our flights arrive early we will have some time to bird local McAllen hotspots and maybe visit a roost for Green Parakeets. Night in McAllen, TX.

Day 2 – Salineño; Chapeño; Falcon State Park; Starr County Park; Hidalgo Co. roads

We’ll get an early start this morning. Our first stop is right on the Rio Grande River at Salineño. It is not very wide here but the view is often tranquil in the morning. This is our best location for Ringed Kingfisher, Audubon’s Oriole, and Red-billed Pigeon (rare). A decade ago this was a place a birder might find Brown Jay. But now these jays are so rare that they require documentation again like any other vagrant. Hearing the loud rattling of the Ringed Kingfisher—the largest kingfisher in North America–still makes my heart pound a little faster when I hear it. We may be lucky enough to see more than one of these flying by. Green Kingfishers can sometimes be seen here as well as Altamira Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Green Jays. Many other Valley specialties are here, too. Nearby Chapeño will give us another chance at some of the same birds.

Falcon State Park is one of the most arid regions we’ll be visiting on this trip and the westernmost of our hotspots. We’ll search for Crested Caracara, Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, and Pyrrhuloxia and more. Starr County Park is similar to Falcon State Park, but may be a bit better for Pyrrhuloxia.

On our return trip to McAllen we’ll drive some side roads of Hidalgo County depending on our time. Lark Sparrow, Lark Bunting, and Black-throated Sparrow are a few of the possibilities. Night near McAllen, TX.

Day 3 – Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park; Anzalduas Park; Santa Ana NWR; Quinta Mazatlan

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the larger tracts of Rio Grande floodplain forest. It is a remnant of the once heavily wooded Lower Rio Grande Valley. Birding targets here include Plain Chachalaca, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Jay, Gray Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Altamira Oriole. In some years, Hook-billed Kites can be seen here by very lucky birders.

Anzalduas Park is located right on the Rio Grande River and is a well-known birding hotspot for Mexican vagrants. If you’re a Ruddy Ground-Dove and you’re reading this, please plan on showing up here when we visit! That’s just one of many goodies that may be present. For the regulars, we’ll be searching for American Pipit and if we’re lucky, maybe even a Sprague’s Pipit. Anzalduas is another good spot for Vermilion Flycatcher.

Santa Ana NWR is a fabulous place to bird in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Many of the targets on our list can be seen here. This refuge has a long history of many astounding birds like Northern Jacana, Rose-throated Becard, and Hook-billed Kite. Groove-billed Ani is more common here in late summer than in late fall. But we’ll keep an eye out for it anyway. Pickups for our list here may include Harris’s Hawk, Green Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Black-crested Titmouse, and Long-billed Thrasher.

Our final stop of the day will be at the beautifully manicured grounds of Quinta Mazatlan. In recent years this has been a good location for secretive Clay-colored Thrush. Night near McAllen, TX.

Day 4 – Estero Llano Grande; Resaca de la Palma; Sabal Palm Sanctuary

Estero Llano Grande State Park is the rising star of birding hotspots in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. If you only had one day in South Texas, this is the spot I would recommend. The diversity here is rich and birds are often easier to see here than many other places. Some of the birds we’ll be looking for will be Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Grebe, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We could also stumble across some lucky-to-find birds (that are not already mentioned) like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Tropical Parula, and Blue Bunting.

South, towards Brownsville, lies Resaca de la Palm State Park. The feeder system here is excellent and sometimes good birds can be found right in the parking lot—like Black-throated Gray Warbler or Townsend’s Warbler for instance. Olive Sparrows are regular feeder visitors affording birders good views.

The large, dense stand of Sabal Palms here at aptly-named Sabal Palm Sanctuary gives you a feeling like you are in another country. This is a great place for Olive Sparrow, Least Grebe, White-tipped Dove, and Green Kingfisher. Night near San Benito, TX.

Day 5 – Old Port Isabel Rd; Laguna Atascosa NWR; Willacy Co. roads

The drive along Old Port Isabel Road will give us our first opportunity of finding a rare Aplomado Falcon. We could turn up many other fine birds along the way, too.

Laguna Atascosa NWR boasts one of the largest species lists of any National Wildlife Refuge in North America. Birds we’ll be targeting include Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Redhead, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, Greater Roadrunner, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and White-tailed Kite. And we’ll have more chances at Aplomado Falcon here, too.

Willacy County is just north of the refuge. We’ll drive some of the side roads in hopes of getting lucky finding Mountain Plover or Sprague’s Pipit. Night near San Benito, TX.

Day 6 – Cameron Co roads; South Padre Island Convention Center; Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp; Harlingen Convention Center

In the morning we’ll meander through the center of Cameron County. More chances for Aplomado Falcon and more raptors and maybe Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Our biggest destination of the day will be the Convention Center on South Padre Island. This place can be hopping during spring migration at its peak in late April. On our visit in fall we’ll be looking for American White Pelican, Franklin’s Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Piping Plover, Sandwich Tern, and Marsh Wren along with a great many other species. It’s a very birdy place.

On our way back through Cameron County we’ll stop at the boat ramp along Texas Route 48 at the outlet to San Martin Lake. We’ll take a quick look for Franklin’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Sanderling, and Semipalmated Plover.

Depending our timing, we may eat dinner first before heading to the Harlingen Convention Center near sunset. Hopefully, the birds will be cooperative and we’ll be able to see both Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot. Final night in McAllen, TX.

Day 7 – Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX. (MFE)

Tour ends. Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX. (MFE)

Cost Details


Cost is $1,850 per person, based upon double occupancy, from McAllen, Texas (Airport code MFE).
This trip ends in McAllen, Texas (Airport code MFE).

Cost Includes

Cost includes airport transfers, all ground transportation, accommodations, entrance fees and services of your professional leader(s).

Cost does not Include

All meals, flights to/from destination city, trip insurance, or anything that is not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of participants registered the trip can still run with a small-group supplement fee per person determined by the number of participants.

Single Supplement

If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $450 will be assessed.

Deposit Requirements

A $500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.


Standard US hotels with ensuite facilities will be used during this tour. We choose good quality hotels closest to the birding locations.


Activity Level

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

This very easy tour is based at one hotel for the duration. It includes easy walks in local parks and some birding from the vehicle.

Additional Information

Recommended Field Guide

Sibley Birds East (2nd Edition, 2016, Knopf)
by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds is also available as an App


Non-smoking Tour

This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.


We will using a 12 or 15-passenger van, driven by the leader (s). If the group size is smaller, a mini-van may be used.

Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

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